Making a mix CD is like a writer writing a script – there needs to be an opening act, ebb and flow and ultimately a climax. You want to take your listener on a journey, but you want your listener to enjoy the entire ride. You don’t want your listener skipping through every other track, rather you want them to stick that mix in and just let it play through (I will accept skipping up to a track and playing all the way through from that point). BUT, the goal should be no skips once the mix starts playing, no matter where the listener starts.
In light of that, I have 7 rules/tips to go by when making any mix CD:
1. Do not bombard any listener with too much of one artist or one genre – Don’t do it unless the goal of the mix is to showcase the artist or a particular type of music. We live in a diverse and eclectic world, and I like mixes that convey that message with diverse and eclectic music – so I focus on making sure there is a nice blend of indie-rock, hip-hop, electronic, pop music, funk, etc.
2. Each track should flow into the next track – when transitioning from high tempo to low tempo and vice versa – you must be extremely careful in the song(s) you select. You speed up or slow down too much and you are going to destroy the energy.
3. Unless you are going with the one artist mix – space out multiple songs with the same artist. This is especially important when tracks come from the same album or it is an artist’s solo material. When you are dealing with rappers who may be making guest appearances on other artist’s tracks – you can be more flexible.
4. Make sure the last track flows back into the first track. Some people have players that repeat the playlist or CD – and you want to make sure that if it goes from track 20 to track 1 – that it sounds right.
5. Always have a banger at the beginning and a banger in the middle. You want to start off the mix strong – so a banger needs to come early. Maybe you do intro tracks or maybe you have a few warm-ups, but by track 3 or 4 – you should deliver something hot. Then, you’ll need another banger holding down the middle of your mix/playlist. You want a track that everyone can jam too and that people are going to anticipate in the mix. If you are on track 6, you want listeners to be looking forward to track 8…but you don’t want them to skip to it.
6. Keep the music fresh – don’t select tracks that are stale or yesterday’s news. Pick the tracks that people haven’t heard about yet, the tracks that people will be talking about next month, the tracks that radio station DJs aren’t even hip to yet! You heard of Ebony Bones, Keith Masters, The Generationals, The Stone Foxes, Mark Foster, Ke$ha, The Glass? If you haven’t, you will soon….they were all on my last mix!
7. Try and toss in something old or old school – even though you want to keep it fresh, most of your listeners aren’t going to be as hip to the music scene as the mixmaster. Stick in something that was yesterdays news or last years news so your less in-tune listeners have something on the mix that they are familiar with and like – like I’ve been putting Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” and accompanying remixes on recently or even Phoenix’s “1901″ or Kid Cudi’s “Day N Nite.” I like those songs, I like the remixes – but for people in the know, Passion Pit, Kid Cudi and Phoenix are already yesterdays news. (Phoenix has been around for forever). You can lose your listener if all you are showing them is new music that hasn’t blown up yet – because some people only like to listen to what is seemingly popular right now. If you hate what has just become popular – hark back to an old school track that everyone has love for – a staple track…perhaps one you put in all of your mixes or a staple track that has a more recent remix (example Diplo‘s remix of Dead Prez‘s “Hip-Hop”). I’m a big fan of using Talking Heads “Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place)” and RJD2‘s “Ghostwriter” in a lot of my mixes because they are just personal favorites that stand the test of time.
Stick to these simple rules and I guarantee your mixes will improve.